Jonathan E. Pearl
How Danish can help bring home the bacon
I learned a little trick from @MandyLenton, who I had the pleasure of observing when I was getting my CMC accreditation. Mandy recommends: always have some protein bars in your bag for those long days when your energy is flagging, and there isn’t the time or opportunity to have a proper meal. This is a tip for mediators on how to look after themselves, and to be as effective as they can be.
I’d go a step further. Actually offer some pastries (or better still, protein bars) to the parties at your next mediation / negotiation. This tactic might sound too obvious — but it’s extremely clever. Serving some nice Danish does several important things:
It promotes Mimicking Behaviour. Both parties will be eating — and this mimicry builds rapport (see Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Research confirms that eating improves negotiations (Maddux, Mullen, & Galinsky, 2008; Balachandra, 2013).
It prompts Reciprocity. You are providing an Unsolicited Favour. Even if the parties hate pastries, this unsolicited favour will trigger an urge to reciprocate (that is: to listen to you, or to make concessions etc. Cialdini, 2006).
It can help Build Trust. For our mammoth-eating ancestors, eating was a moment of vulnerability when you couldn’t defend yourself. Inviting another caveperson to join you for a meal was therefore a symbol of trust – and it still is. (Pearl, 2013)
It increases the Parties’ Glucose Levels. As those of you with young kids know, people often behave more aggressively if their glucose level is low (Donohoe & Benton, 1999). On the other hand, increasing glucose levels can actually boost cooperation (Denson, von Hippel, Kemp, & Teo, 2010). Pastries and coffee increase glucose levels, so they should reduce aggression (Lane, 2011). But beware – as anyone with kids knows - a sugar overload can lead to ‘tears before bedtime’.
Introducing pastries and perhaps coffee is an opportunity to break the meeting for some reflection, and a break in proceedings can completely change the eventual outcome of the meeting. I remember a very tough mediation where a few friendly words swapped between the parties’ principals as we queued up to serve ourselves from a buffet formed the basis for a productive afternoon – and an eventual amicable settlement.
Add a hot cup of coffee to the pastry and this promotes a physical feeling of warmth. Our brain confuses physical warmth with personal warmth. Holding a warm beverage (e.g. coffee) boosts our interpersonal warmth and cooperative behaviour (Williams & Bargh, 2008).
Pearl, D (2013). Will There Be Donuts?
Balachandra, L. (2013). Should you eat while you negotiate. Harvard Business Review.
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: the perception–behavior link and social interaction.
Cialdini, R. B. (2006). Influence: the psychology of persuasion, revised edition.
Denson, T. F., von Hippel, W., Kemp, R. I., & Teo, L. S. (2010). Glucose consumption decreases impulsive aggression in response to provocation in aggressive individuals.
Donohoe, R. T., & Benton, D. (1999). Blood glucose control and aggressiveness in females.
Lane, J. D. (2011). Caffeine, glucose metabolism, and type 2 diabetes.
Maddux, W. W., Mullen, E., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Chameleons bake bigger pies and take bigger pieces: Strategic behavioural mimicry facilitates negotiation outcomes.
Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth.